I have never really considered myself to be a particularly quick runner. I hated cross-country runs at school and walked whenever I thought I could get away with them (although I did accidentally once end up in the school team, but I don’t like to talk about that). I was a passably decent 400m runner, working out that you could beat most people if you just went out really hard at the gun and just tried to hold on over that awful last 100m. Even then, I was dipping under 60 seconds, but not by enough to consider myself particularly talented.
It’s somewhat ironic, then that I now spend so much of my time running. I started dabbling whilst I was still a student. I’d played loads of sport at school and that all suddenly ground to a halt at university when I realised that most of the people in the university sports clubs – especially the rugby club – where utterly insufferable. I felt I needed to do some sort of exercise, and running seemed to deliver the biggest bang in the shortest amount of time. One short-ish run a week didn’t really become much more for several years, and my running only really took off when I stumbled into a running community. Not only did I discover the joys of running with other people – apparently my assumptions that running was a quintessentially solitary sport were mistaken – but I also started to run further and faster than I have ever done before. I’m not the fastest person in the club, by any stretch of the imagination, but I was probably in the top 10 or 15%.
Mind you, running is such a relative sport: most runners learn pretty quickly that they’ll be quicker than many but also slower than many, and the only person you can reliably measure yourself against is yourself. By that benchmark, I’ve been getting steadily faster over the last three or four years. Not too bad for a 41 year-old guy with MS. At my best, I can run fairly steadily at a pace of around, on a good day just under, 8 min/mile…. Although, to be honest, almost all idea of pace have gone out of the window since I started training for the marathon last year, which has continued into my training for this year’s London Marathon: my focus has completely changed to thinking about how far I run , not just how fast. I’m now rarely running flat out because my objective is now to nurse my body around much longer distances, and I don’t trust my body enough to try and run both far AND fast without breaking down.
Something else has changed too: since I started getting involved with my running club and especially with parkrun, I’ve found that I derive much more satisfaction from the community than I do from simply turning up and running as fast as I can. I enjoy volunteering at parkrun at least as much as the actual running. I’m now a registered guide for visually impaired runners, and on Saturday I took Steve out for his first ever parkrun. We went round in a gentle 50 minutes, maybe 25-30 minutes slower than I might run it on my own. But, you know what? That’s okay. That run was for Steve, not for me and I’m totally fine with that. In fact, I enjoyed it and doubtless derived a lot more satisfaction from my morning’s work than if I’d challenged my personal best.
There’s a bit of tension in my running club at the moment: there are those people who like the community and want to make sure we have enough trained run leaders to keep offering beginner’s courses and to make sure everyone feels welcome and safe, and there are those who like to run as fast as they can and who only want to run with people who can run as fast as they can (with a particular set of initials, apparently. They’d hate to mess up their little team acronym by having someone join with the wrong Christian name. I wish I was joking….). People can run with who they want to, of course, but I find myself increasingly impatient with those runners who swamp our facebook group with stories about how fast they run, and banter about who can or cannot join their little clique. I can probably run fast enough to train with these people, but you know what? I’d rather train on my own. That might be what community is for them, but that’s not what it means to me.
People run for all sorts of reasons. Speed is undoubtedly one of them, but it’s not the key motive for everyone and I’m increasingly realising that it’s not really about that for me either. PBs are nice, but they’re definitely not everything.
Maybe, if I was a faster runner, I’d think differently. Where would Mo Farah be if he had that kind of an attitude, eh? NOWHERE.